Life of groundbreaking Indigenous poet Pauline Johnson detailed in one-woman musical

·2 min read
Paddle Song is a one-woman musical that tells the story of Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson, who was a poet and performer in the 19th and early 20th century. (Firehall Arts Centre/Submitted - image credit)
Paddle Song is a one-woman musical that tells the story of Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson, who was a poet and performer in the 19th and early 20th century. (Firehall Arts Centre/Submitted - image credit)

A one-woman musical about the life of late 19th-century Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson is hitting the stage at an arts centre in Vancouver this week.

Canadian actor and musician Cheri Maracle, who is of Mohawk and Irish descent, says Paddle Song highlights Johnson's promising career and how she fought for equality, acceptance and respect as an Indigenous female performer in a white male-dominated literary world.

"It was always important to her to give a voice to women, to stand up for Indigenous rights and children's rights," Maracle, the musical's sole star, told CBC's The Early Edition on Wednesday.

Johnson was a poet and performer who became popular in the early 20th century for her short stories that celebrated her mixed-race heritage.

She is most remembered for performing half her shows in an Indigenous dress and the other half in an English dress.

Firehall Arts Centre/ Submitted
Firehall Arts Centre/ Submitted

"I don't do anything so literal [in the musical], but it's something that I've grappled with my entire career as well," Maracle said.

She said she too grew up with a Mohawk father and a mixed-race mother and found many other similarities between her and Johnson, so it was an honour to be approached by one of the co-writers for Paddle Song to perform as the trailblazing poet.

"I was quite daunted by the idea of just me up there for an hour," she said.

The one-hour musical starts with a young Johnson canoeing the Grand River at home in Chiefswood, in Ontario, before it explores how she earned her place on stages across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

Maracle says Paddle Song has been performed in India and Norway, but she's excited to come back to B.C., where she attended theatre school, to perform the show at the Firehall Arts Centre Nov. 10-21.

LISTEN | Cheri Maracle talks about Paddle Song and playing Pauline Johnson:

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